A/N This is going to be a multi-chapter fic exploring Sarai and Kally's lives in Carthak. Hopefully you will all enjoy it! Thanks to everyone who looked it over for me in the long, long, long process of writing. Special thanks to LunaSphere and Sweet Sassy Sarah who helped me put it together and polish it up. Edited: 10/16/10

Sarai was wary of royalty.

Growing up as a noble in the Rittevon's court, it was no great surprise, no great shock. Her husband – she still grinned to think the word – assured her that the Emperor of Carthak and his Empress were not the type of people that she would need to fear. They ruled fairly, without violence against those who served them. Sarai knew that Emperor Kaddar was Zaimid's friend; Sarai and Zaimid had spent all their time on the ship heading south getting to know each other as they hadn't been able to while being watched by chaperones in Rajmuat. She could picture the boy and man Kaddar had been, featured in so many of the tales Zaimid had told her of his life before the Copper Isles.

But still, her stomach tightened with nausea as her maids dressed her for court.

"Everything will be alright," Zaimid soothed. He didn't try to argue, understanding that her anxiety went beyond reasoning. Because even if she accepted that these monarchs were as different from the ones she knew as he assured her they were, she would still have spent her first few days in Zaimid's apartment staring at the royal invitation in panic. What if she hated the court? What if they did not approve of her? What could the Emperor do if he believed that his friend and chief healer had married beneath his station?

Sarai was half-raka, after all.

No, it was nothing to be ashamed of here.

She had never been ashamed, she told herself firmly. She had spent her entire life holding her head high, with dignity, in the face of terrible insults about her very blood and it seemed impossible that it would stop being something she had to defend.

The palace was a strange mix of breath-taking opulence and partial construction. The new palace had not been built on the same grounds as the old ruins, and certain wings of the old palace still stood, abandoned and infested with pests. Zaimid had told her fantastic stories of ancient bones, a Goddess and her rats, and a girl's rage at an Emperor. Once they were settled (once they met the Emperor, he meant, but she refused to think about it anymore than she must), he had promised to take her to the old palace's ruins.

They were guided to the Fireopal Hall, where the large audiences and formal events were held. It was the largest hall in the new palace, and was fashioned after the old throne room of the ruins, with the two thrones at the far end of the hall on a small dais. Small curtained alcoves and doors lined the walls, with cushioned seats or hidden entrances to servants' corridors. They were announced to the room filled with people as the walked through the high, decorated doors. Sarai held her head high as they walked towards the dais, ignoring the stares she and Zaimid received as they walked arm in arm. She was Saraiyu Balitang, the daughter of a Duke and a cousin to royalty, no matter her insecurities. She would not cower. The people and the room itself floated past in a colourful blur.

The Emperor was a dark-skinned young man, darker than Sarai or Zaimid, with glossy black hair. He wore an elaborate Carthaki robe, emerald green silk with gold trim. There was gold on his fingers and neck, which glinted as he leaned forward in his throne to smile as they approached. His Empress sat beside him on a throne that matched her husband's. She wore a gown that covered every bit of skin, but up close, Sarai could see that it was made of lilac silk so fine it was almost sheer. She wore a small veil that didn't hide hair which was as coal-black as her husband's. A chain was woven into the veil and hung onto her forehead, a dark tear-shaped black stone resting on her pale forehead. Her skin seemed fairer and her eyes more brilliantly blue next to her husband's darker complexion.

She was almost breathtakingly beautiful, Sarai realized with a touch of jealousy. She would have been Sarai's competition for every attention had the Empress been born in the Isles rather than Tortall. And parents would have fought for her to marry into their family, not hide their sons from her as they had done with Sarai.

Sarai curtsied deeply as Zaimid bowed beside her. She rose when the Emperor spoke. "My friend," he addressed Zaimid, obviously delighted to see him, "we hope your trip has helped you refine your healing arts and that the Copper Isles managed to capture your attention." Zaimid offered polite assurances while Sarai studied the Emperor's face. "We look forward to being reacquainted with you, as well as meeting your wife, in a private audience tomorrow." He spoke formally, but his smile was authentic, and he put his hand softly on his wife's arm as he extended the invitation, making it less a royal command than a joint wish.

Sarai looked again at the Empress while Zaimid accepted the invitation. For a moment, their eyes met, and Sarai felt a connection. Then she was deep in a curtsy and backing away from the royal presence.

A/N Reviews are always appreciated. Feel encouraged to point out any mistakes you see or to make suggestions.